19 October 2012

BlogalongaBond- QUANTUM OF SOLACE Review

It seems that this is one of the least-regarded films of the whole BlogalongaBond marathon, which seems absurd when compared to Die Another Day, Thunderball or A View To A Kill. Then again, Quantum of Solace just goes to show that you can only get so far on having one of the few Bond portrayals in which the character is allowed to develop, and that the rest of it needs to make some kind of sense too. It should at least be more memorable than this turned out, anyway.

This series had never seen such a direct sequel, and is unlikely to ever join up separate instalments in such a manner again, as we begin the film about ten minutes after Casino Royale. Bond is still wounded by Vesper's betrayal, and a disastrous early encounter with Mr. White reveals MI6's ignorance of Quantum, a criminal organisation who operate on a global scale, both within governments and outside of their knowledge. As he investigates, he encounters Camille, a Bolivian secret service agent, who is involved with Dominic Greene, a member of Quantum who is aiding in a coup.

Prior to starting on BlogalongaBond, I had probably seen Quantum of Solace more than any other Bond film. I'm really not sure how this happened. Yes, I remember that there were repeat viewings at the cinema, and I saw it when it premiered on telly, but having watched it a week ago, I'm still struggling to remember enough about it to review the thing. As in many of the other reviews that have been blogged this month, I have to acknowledge that this was one of the films affected by the 2008 Writers' Guild of America strike, a union dispute that sunk a couple of summer blockbusters, led to the irreversible decline of the TV series Heroes, and made Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen even worse than it would have been with a script.

With Skyfall due to hit cinemas in just one week, Daniel Craig and Eon have waved away the problems with the previous film- even they seem to have declared it a loss, in the wake of the exaggerated response this received from internet commenters. Still, I know several friends of mine who liked this one, and even preferred it to Casino Royale- I might disagree with them, but I agree there's some decent stuff in here, and that it's churlish to complain about a film in which the tropes of the series are largely disregarded, in a bid to break formula.

My chief problem with the film is that it feels much less like a sequel to Casino Royale than an unnecessary extension. Although Craig's Bond develops, in terms of both performance and character, it feels stuck on a resolution that was already handled very well last time around. The great ending to the previous film, with that famous catchphrase, was a nice clean break. Quantum of Solace opens up the wounds again, rather than letting Bond move on with that emotional context, as I'm about 90% certain was Martin Campbell's intention. I'm far less certain of any of the intentions that Marc Forster had, directing this one. Perhaps what makes this one so distinctly unmemorable is that it spends all of its truncated running time in the shadow of its much acclaimed predecessor, rather than striking out towards the future.

There's nothing else that's really awful about it. Still, the trade-off for avoiding an invisible car, or some kind of Sheriff J.W. Pepper substitute, is that certain identifiers, those which mark each Bond film apart, are lacking. Olga Kurylenko's Camille recalls certain aspects of Melina Havelock from For Your Eyes Only, and holds a decent mirror to Bond's arc, but their chemistry doesn't lead anywhere. Camille was never going to show up in Skyfall, or have anything close to the prominence that Vesper gets here. And on the more forgettable side, Agent (Strawberry) Fields is one of a few unfortunate early roles for Gemma Arterton, in which she doesn't get any of her later opportunities to show off her acting chops.

I'd really rather say less about Greene, who comes across as pathetic and distinctly un-menacing, despite a droll, sinister effort by Mathieu Amalric. The thing that bugs me the most is that he hangs out with a henchman called Elvis, a henchman whose only henchman superpower is that he has a bowlcut, and wears sunglasses that make him look like a twat. Greene is further undermined by the short shrift he's given amidst the inscrutability of Quantum's breathlessly over-complicated methods and inner workings, and he's also upstaged by JoaquĆ­n Cosio's General Medrano, the despot who murdered Camille's family.

There are a ton of little mistakes that all stack up throughout the film, building a feeling of estrangement. The disastrous second-unit direction and choppy editing are the most often criticised aspects, even though some of the action sequences are quite impressively choreographed. Quantum's answer to the opening free-running chase from the last run-around is particularly enjoyable, and thumps out a rhythm that is quickly forgotten when the plot takes over. Quite apart from those issues though, I'm referring to aspects like the underwritten quips and zingers, the confusion of why that geologist has anything to do with anything, the overlapping of two subtitled conversations, (one of which is completely irrelevant to the plot) and most of all, those stylised location graphics.

By contrast, all of the things that I really like about it are really very small, to the point of being too insignificant to bring up in a review. The line, "I don't think he smoked", delivered by Bond in Mitchell's flat, leading a frustrated M to smash the ashtray she gave him a Christmas present. The bit where Bond coolly slaps that one henchman's hand off the brake of his motorbike, causing it to flip arse over tit. That one dazzling scene where Bond has a shootout with Greene's men, inter-cut with the production of Tosca that's still going on a few rooms away, which makes it seem like editors Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson only just woke up. But out of context, these bits don't mean much at all, which allows it to slip from the memory far more easily than many other Bond films.

After the reinvention that was heralded by Daniel Craig's arrival, Quantum of Solace takes place in a much smaller world. For one thing, it's a world in which practically every major character who didn't get killed off in Casino Royale returns, regardless of whether they need to be. It's the shortest film of the series, but it arguably needed more time to take a deep breath and dilute the concentrated story over more time, and that's what sinks its interesting attempt to build up a 21st century SPECTRE. It's not a total travesty, but up until now, the disconnect between instalments gives the impression that Bond has off-screen adventures in-between films, and the worst thing I can say about this story is that it probably would have been better placed, off-screen.

#22- A Bolivian taxi driver was told to buy a cab by his grandmother. This is clearly more important than the other foreign language conversation that Mathis was having at the same time.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Skyfall... in November. Spoiler-free review to arrive next weekend...

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